I arrived in Saudi Arabia in December of 1970, after living for three and a half years in Lebanon, having hunted with falcons there, and having met a few Salukis, but knowing very little about them. Soon after my arrival, I was asked to give a talk on falconry to the Natural History Society, a group of mostly expatriate personnel interested in the local natural history, people and customs. Most of my falconry experience up to that point had been in Germany, so that is what I talked about. I did suggest, however, that it would be nice to invite a local man with some live falcons, so people could get a first hand look at one.
When the evening came, I found a well filled lecture hall and, seated in the back, a dignified gentleman in Arab robes with two hooded falcons. Apart from a few words of introduction he was silent. I presented my slide show, and during the question period duly borrowed one of his falcons, showed it round the audience and returned it to him. There were many questions. When all the people had filed out, the gentleman, whose name was Fheid, came up to me and said "My friend, next weekend we go hunting together!"
The next weekend, he and his nine year old son took me to the desert in a battered Nissan jeep. By some amazing tracking, he found a Houbara (favorite game bird of Arabian falconers), and caught it with a falcon. That was my first lesson in Arabian falconry.
More than a year later there came a knocking on my
door. Fheid was standing there, tears streaming down his face, his Saluki bitch in his arms. She had been shot
by a hostile neighbor. A skilled veterinary surgeon repaired her smashed foreleg. Not long thereafter she produced
a litter of puppies, whose descendants, four to six generations later, still live in our house.
The photograph shows Dasma protesting an impending house move. The surgical scar on her left elbow is visible.
Dasma developed an intense loyalty to my person, and usually accompanied me on evening walks around the town. On one such occasion she performed a feat of magic. One second she was walking beside me, at heel. The next second she was walking beside me, at heel, with a rabbit in her mouth. It developed that she must have ducked through an open gate and purloined the rabbit from someone's garden, so quickly I didn't even see that she was gone from my side. It further developed - over the course of the next few days - that the garden (and the rabbit) belonged to a nephew of the King. Quite a bit later, the nephew and I became friends - he was a Royal Saudi Air Force fighter pilot and like myself a falconer - but what an embarrassing way to begin a friendship!
This picture shows me with two
of my other foundation Salukis in Saudi Arabia. They have just caught their first desert hare. The one in front
is Loofah's dam, Sha'ila, who came from Bani Murra tribal stock. She accompanied me on many travels, and coursed
gazelles in the Sudan and hares in Spain and elsewhere. While I was a guest in the hunting camp of King Khalid,
she came into season. King Khalid's falconers were mostly from the Bani Murra and knew more about my bitch than
I myself did at the time. So they set out to organize an appropriate breeding, without bothering to tell me what
they were up to. They probably thought I didn't know enough to have a valid opinion (and they were probably right).
Anyway a day or two later another Marri sheikh showed up with a strong male Saluki, who in due course bred Sha'ila
and so became the sire of Loofah and her littermates.
The photo at right shows "Abu Loofah" as I later dubbed him, resting next to one of the falcons in front of my tent. He was very polite, but very persistent, and in the end he got his way. Only much later did I realize what a stroke of good fortune that would prove to be.
A bit later, I left Arabia temporarily, and lived
with Loofah and Sha'ila for a while on an Arabian horse farm in Austria. When I returned to Arabia, I was told
I couldn't take the Salukis with me. That turned out to be untrue, but it set in motion a chain of events that
led to Loofah going to live with Susi in Switzerland.
The rest, as they say, is history. Susi bred Loofah to Arezu Tazi Arya, belonging to a friend and at the time the reigning champion of the Swiss oval racetrack, a venue in which their progeny also enjoyed outstanding success. Loofah, Arezu and some of their descendants can be seen by going to "album" ...
(all photos on this page by John Burchard)